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Vaccine manufacturer at centre of UK foot and mouth outbreak

A UK government animal disease research laboratory and the sanofi-aventis and Merck & Co-owned Merial Animal Health were being investigated in a probe regarding an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the region.

A UK government animal disease research laboratory and the sanofi-aventis and Merck & Co-owned Merial Animal Health were being investigated in a probe regarding an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the region.

The Pirbright site, located in the country of Surrey, England, is shared by the government's Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health, the latter of which manufactures vaccines designed to combat food and mouth.

A strain of the virus was found on a farm three miles away from the laboratories and was found to be similar to the ones stored for R&D purposes at the Pirbright site.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed on 5 August that the virus was identical to those stored at IAH and used to manufacture a vaccine batch at the Merial facility.

The last foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 cost the UK around GBP 8bn and damaged rural communities. Up to 10 million animals were slaughtered and burned to contain the spread of the virus, which has been shown to have a wind borne vector.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors are reviewing procedures at Merial, which in FY06 racked up sales of USD 2.2bn (GBP 1.1bn). While the investigation continues the company has halted its vaccine manufacturing operations.

The Prime Minister, who is taking personal responsibility for the investigation, has also appointed a leading microbiologist to conduct an independent investigation into biosecurity measures at both facilities. The IAH and Merial have both said they were confident there had been no breach in biosecurity procedures.

Sixty-four cattle from three different holdings on the farm site in Surrey were destroyed as a precaution on 4 August after the outbreak was confirmed the day before. A 1.7-mile protection zone and a 6.5-mile surveillance zone are in place around the affected farm and the research site.

In line with EU legislation, a national ban on moving sheep, cattle and pigs is in place. Britain has suspended the export of meat products, animal carcasses and milk.

A number of EU member states are checking cattle, pigs and sheep as well as British livestock imports, while others have placed a temporary ban on meat from at-risk animals.

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